Monty’s Men?

Born into the British Army of the Rhine, and brought up in an Army family, I have admired Field Marshal The First Viscount Montgomery since boyhood.  Whilst not all those elderly relatives who had served under Monty in the Second World War felt the same way (my Stepfather’s father had a visceral hatred of Monty) the vast majority saw him as a great leader and a brilliant commander.  It is true, he was a man with considerable human shortcomings, but as a soldier he has been my professional role model for nearly thirty years.  On Tuesday evening, Professor Lloyd Clark, Director of Research at the British Army Centre for Army Leadership, gave the latest in the ‘War Talks at PCL’ talk series with Monty’s leadership in the Inter-War years as his subject.  A gifted trainer of men, an iconoclast, and a dedicated professional, Monty was portrayed as everything I had hoped.  I was drawn to one particular anecdote in which Monty challenged a number of officers by stating that soldiers were as likely to be leaders as officers, citing the conduct of a Private under his command at Ypres in 1914, this was not a popular view amongst his audience, but Monty stuck to his guns believing that all soldiers have it within them to be leaders, and that all should dedicate themselves to the study of their chosen profession.

Today, while discussing a project with which I am involved at Tidworth, the subject of Professor Clark’s Talk and soldier education came up, I instantly hopped onto my soapbox!  Those of you familiar with this Blog know that I argue passionately that the current professional education of soldiers is poor, at less than one month in a twenty-four year career, certainly insufficient for the success of the adaptable Future Force.  Without mandated, through-career, professional education what hope is there for our junior leaders?  In an archaic, hierarchical system, which in part would still be shocked at Monty’s suggestion that even Privates can be leaders, how can we hope to get the best from our men when we refuse to give them an adequate professional education, and fail to encourage them to exploit educational opportunities? Recently, Lieutenant General (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely wrote reminding those at the top of the Armed Forces of the importance of professional education and warning against easy cuts which would undermine Defence, Sir John is right it would be easy to make savings in professional education but it would be disastrous to future operations.  We need more education, greater rigour, and more opportunity…Train for the Known, Educate for the Unknown.  Monty for all his human failings was right, soldiers are leaders and must be educated.  I am one of Monty’s Men.

On a lighter note, the next Talk in the ‘War Talks at PCL’ series will see Dr Jonathan Boff, a man to whom I am personally indebted for my education, speaking on the subject of his new book, ‘Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front’.  Jonathan will speak at Prince Consort’s Library from 1800hrs on Tuesday 8th May 2018.  Later in May, we have Dr David Morgan-Owen of King’s College London and the Defence Academy, talking about the Royal Navy in the Great War.  I am still firming up arrangements for Talks in June, but we expect to see Dr Matthias Strohn, Dr Nick Lloyd, and Professor Theo Farrell before the August break.  Professional Military Education is everyone’s business, I’d ask those military amongst you whether you feel you have done enough to promote it?  We are all busy, but as professionals we should dedicate ourselves to our profession, to misquote Alexander Suvarov, ‘Educate Hard, Fight Easy’ and be one of Monty’s Men.

Have a good weekend,


War Talks and BAMBY18 Update

As some of you who regularly attend the Talk Series may know, we have been awaiting news on the temporary closure of our venue, the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot, for several months.  It has recently been confirmed that the building will close from late July – early December 2018.  During that period, the Library be emptied and a temporary, limited service established by the Army Libraries Information Service (ALIS) within New Normandy Barracks, Aldershot.  This is good news for the Library, which will receive new electrics for the first time in a century, securing its use as a venue for the education of the soldier long into the future.  It is also good news for both the War Talks at PCL Talk Series and the British Army Military Book of the Year 2018, as it gives me a definitive guideline within which to operate.  I had only booked guest speakers up until 8 May 2018 in anticipation of an earlier closure, but can now book-in up to four more speakers before the Library closes, and find a temporary venue for our Talks from September – December 2018.

I have received some kind offers regarding accommodation, notably from within the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, however, this would both limit our audience and create a temptation to stay in the bosom of our academic colleagues at Camberley.  The purpose of the Series and BAMBY18 is essentially twofold: to encourage service personnel and civil servants to carry out informal Professional Military Education (PME) as an enabler of military adaptability, and to support the continued work of the PCL.  Given these aims, it is essential that the Series and BAMBY 18 remain in Aldershot, both the Home of the British Army, and home to four major Army headquarters and six Army major units.  I will therefore be looking for a venue, outside the wire, and easily accessed by military and civilian audiences alike for the Autumn period.  I have had some suggestions, the churches for example, and look forward to hearing your suggestions.  It is anticipated that the Talk Series and BAMBY18 will return to the PCL in December 2018 for the presentation of the BAMBY Prize.

Talking of the Prize, I’m sure you will have seen my earlier Blog posts regarding the shortlist and judging criteria for the BAMBY18, our judges are busying themselves as we speak, reading and deliberating.  As a matter of fact, on Tuesday 10 April 2018, Dr Aimee Fox will speak on her shortlisted book at PCL.  Aimee will be the second of the shortlisted authors to speak at PCL this year, with Lt Gen (Ret’d) Sir John Kiszely KCB MC having spoken there in July 2017.  Now that I have a little room for manoeuvre, I hope to be able to welcome several more of the shortlisted authors along to speak.  Indeed, it is likely that we have tempted Professor Theo Farrell all the way from Australia for a Talk in July!!  The extension to the available time for talks has also allowed me to book an academic whose work I greatly admire and who I have been chasing for several months.  I am pleased to announce that on Wed 23 May 18, Dr David Morgan Owen of King’s College London and the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom will speak to us on the subject of, ‘War as it Might Have Been: British Sea Power and the First World War’.  Hopefully, by moving to a naval topic, we will expand the War Talks audience and broaden the interests of our loyal followers.

I look forward to seeing you all at an event in Aldershot soon,

All the best,



We Will Remember Them?

Tomorrow sees the 101st anniversary of the death of my Great Great Uncle, 28337 Lance Corporal Joshua Bartle Gailes of the 20th Bn Durham Light Infantry.  He was killed by German artillery as he emerged from the Queen Victoria Communication Trench at St Eloi, near Ypres on Tuesday, 3rd April 1917 and is buried in the Klein Vierstraat Cemetery only a few miles away.  There are, as far as I can tell, another two family members who met their end serving in the First World War: a cousin, PLY/911(S) Private Robert Thomas Platten of the 2nd Bn Royal Marine Light Infantry who fought at Gallipoli, on the Ancre, was killed during the Battle of Arras at Gavrelle on 28th April 1917, and is ‘known unto God’.  The other, another cousin, 143023 Private Adam Barron McClellan of the 25th Bn Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), died of his wounds on 16 April 1918, having been captured at Bailleul in the Georgette Offensive; he is buried at Ghent.

In addition, there are perhaps a dozen other family members, miners and labourers in the Edwardian era, for whom the Army represented a release.  My Great Grandfather, who fought on the Somme and at Passchendaele, survived the War, and died an alcoholic in 1961.  A Great, Great Uncle joined up in 1915 and apart from a brief spell at Gallipoli spent the war guarding Malta, being famously wounded by a bullet in the arse!  His brother manned a howitzer on the Somme.  In recent weeks, I have discovered cousins who fought on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, with differing degrees of success; one, a Lance Sergeant in the Tyneside Irish, witnessed over 50% casualties in his Unit and subsequently fought at Ypres and during the German Spring Offensives, the other, a Private in the 8th Bn, Norfolk Regiment had a far more successful first day and survived the War albeit after taking part in numerous other actions.

In recent weeks, I have been involved in four Battlefield Tours taking children from England out to Ypres, and down to the Somme.  In all, I would imagine I have escorted almost 200 children, of whom only a handful profess to have family members who fought or died, but all of whom will stand at the Menin Gate in Ypres and respectfully repeat, ‘We Will Remember Them’ at eight o’clock each evening.  Now, I am not being supercilious; I was brought up in a Service family, told to keep the Silence on Remembrance Day on pain of death, and had no knowledge of family members who would then have been elderly veterans (yes, I am that old).  I was thus in the same boat as all the kids taken to Flanders in the last two months at their age, it wasn’t that I didn’t care, just that I didn’t know!!  I have only become aware of the ‘Barnes Platoon’ since 2010, and was the first of my family to visit Joshua’s grave. in almost a hundred years, in February 2015, perhaps one has to turn 40 to find these things vital.

When I was stood at the Gate a fortnight ago, I heard several people complaining that the young kids had ‘no respect’, I would challenge that; they respect what they know and it is down to us Oldies to ensure that kids understand both Remembrance and their own personal stories.  We need to take the plank from our own eyes before we worry about kids’ splinters!  So grown-ups, research your family platoons and tell your kids about them before Remembrance becomes meaningless.  Lets not lose faith with those who lie in Flanders Fields.

All the best,